Are schools producing Generation Snowflake?

Sunday 23 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Frobisher Auditorium 2 Battle for Education

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Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

What is Generation Snowflake, and is it really as big a problem as its critics claim? The term first appeared in American universities then it emerged on British campuses. Since the publication of Claire Fox’s book I Find That Offensive, the Generation Snowflake debate broadened out to consider the role of schools as well as universities. Fox charges that British schools are socialising students into a mind-set of vulnerability and hypersensitivity. Young people are being taught through anti-bullying and other initiatives to perceive offensive words as a serious threat, and to see emotional harm as indistinguishable from physical assault. Supporters of the Generation Snowflake thesis contend that years of a preoccupation in education with self-esteem and fragile identities have encouraged too many pupils into becoming ‘wimps’ and ‘cotton wool kids’. The consequence, they claim, is that the model of a young person we are presented with today is of an increasingly fragile, thin-skinned individual all too willing to take offence. This can mean that by Sixth Form, pupils have a tendency to react badly to contentious arguments, complaining they are ‘traumatised’ rather than attempting to respond by articulating their own ideas.

Others reject the Generation Snowflake theory as too simplistic and insensitive, a lazy caricature. Is it not better to address the insecurities of our teenagers and make schools more emotionally intelligent, safe spaces, they ask?  Harm is indeed about far more than physical threats. The intensity of the exams treadmill itself - let alone that young people are now open to a wide range of damaging phenomena, from cyber-bullying to grooming and manipulation from extremists - means the young are vulnerable to all kinds of new pressures. Surely educators should be doing more not less to address the mental health insecurities of our students?

What’s wrong with being sensitive to the ideas pupils are exposed to in the classroom, or at the very least providing ‘trigger warnings’ before discussing rape or homophobic or religiously sensitive topics that may upset or provoke psychological trauma? Are Generation Snowflake in fact more accurately described as a generation newly aware of the dangers of hate speech, and rightly sensitive about unacceptable, offensive speech? What is really going on in the minds of our average teenage school student today? Are they more robust and resilient than presently caricatured, or are they thin-skinned and too easily offended? Is today’s generation of students in fact any different from their parents’ generation? If so how and why?